A Harris’s Hawk Hunting

By Dan Weisz

I was visiting Rio Vista, a small city park near the Rillito River Path, a week ago and saw a young Harris’s Hawk hoping to get a snack.  Following are some portraits.  The hawk was perched low in the mesquite tree, about eye-level.  Much of its time was spent looking on the ground waiting for round-tailed ground squirrels to emerge from the brush beneath him.  They were making several quick dashes but he never was able to react fast enough to even attempt to drop down on them.

The white splotches and mottling of its belly feathers lets us know this is a juvenile Harris’s Hawk. Whether this is its first or second year I can’t tell, but it hasn’t been around for very long.  You can see the typical bare skin on its face between the eye and the bill as well as the brick-red leggings and shoulder patch.

I moved to the other side of the mesquite tree and took a few photos there.  Again, this bird is really watching and hoping for a lucky break!

At one point as it was turned to the side, my photo revealed it had ‘blinked’ showing its nictitating membrane. This was probably just to moisten its eye as the hawk had been staring for a long time.

The Harris’s Hawk wasn’t moving from its spot but it did look around.  This bird  is pretty healthy looking. Whether it was finding all of its food on its own or whether it was still dependent on family for handouts, I can’t be sure. I do feel it was looking strong and very well fed though and it was working hard for its next meal.

So I went back to the other side again, and the hawk was intently looking straight down waiting for the ground squirrel to show.

The Harris’s Hawk had been sitting in the tree hunting from before I even noticed it.  And then I took the time to run back to my car to get my camera. After all of this, the hawk finally got tired of waiting for any ground squirrel and it turned around, took one last look, and flew off.

It’s not easy being a raptor and working all day long for your next meal. I am certain this Harris’s Hawk is doing well and will be successful on one of its next forays.


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